Content warning: this article addresses domestic abuse and sexual assault
Eva Vives’ 2018 film “All About Nina” is an incredibly relevant and surprisingly funny film about the effects of domestic abuse on women’s lives. Nina Geld (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) leaves her abusive, married partner in New York City. She restarts her life in Los Angeles, where she continues to pursue stand-up comedy. Onstage, Nina is known for talking about sex and being a strong woman. Offstage, though, Nina is struggling with the aftermath of her abusive relationship and childhood trauma.
Winstead’s performance carries the film. Nina is a dark, complex and troubled character. She’s seen in such a broad range of emotions as the film progresses, from being on top of the world after getting her big break, to falling apart onstage as she talks about being sexually assaulted while growing up. The film is about Nina’s ongoing healing process rather than focusing on the abuse itself, which is shown briefly at the start of the movie. Like the title suggests, the movie is truly interested in Nina in her entirety.
The care and personal experience put into the script is palpable. Nina has beautiful and heartbreaking moments. Nina’s story doesn’t fit the mystical healing narrative that views healing as a linear upward process. In one scene, she walks around topless and practices comedy, appearing comfortable and laughing at herself. Later, though, after spending a great night with Rafe (Common), Nina holds herself, crying on the shower floor having a panic attack. This shows the difficulty of dating after trauma and how even things that most people view as positive, like connecting with someone new, can dig up trauma-conditioned responses. For Nina, that takes the form of a panic attack.
“Winstead’s performance carries the film. Nina is a dark, complex and troubled character. She’s seen in such a broad range of emotions as the film progresses…The film delves into each area of her life to show the breadth of the impact of trauma while also showcasing Nina’s resilience and fight to heal.”
The film shows what it’s like to date after traumatic events without shying away from the messy and upsetting parts. Importantly, though, the movie is not only about Nina’s dating life. It’s about her as a whole person with a career, family, friendships and romantic relationships. The film delves into each area of her life to show the breadth of the impact of trauma while also showcasing Nina’s resilience and fight to heal. Even when so much is going wrong, Nina’s career is growing and she’s building up new friendships. Seeing these positive notes during the otherwise heavy movie is not only a moment to breathe for the audience, but an accurate portrayal of the process of healing. There are ups and downs, and loop-de-loops. Nothing is predictable or one-sided. It’s messy and beautiful and human, making Nina’s character a dynamic and multidimensional woman.
“All About Nina” did poorly at the box office, but it’s now streaming, so it has the possibility to reach more people. It’s worth a watch and can be especially cathartic for survivors of abuse and/or assault. In the time of #MeToo, it’s important to center stories by and about survivors like this one. The film may be tough to watch at times, but Eva Vives creates a humanizing narrative and does not simplify the healing process.